Don't just dump healthy school dinners on kids

25 July 2007
Don't just dump healthy school dinners on kids

As the Government announces details of £240m funding for school meals for the next three years, public sector consultant Diane Macklin argues that money alone is not enough

For those of us who have been working in the public sector all their lives, the idea that another, even bigger, government funding stream is going to sort things out is a familiar one, but sadly one that never really delivers the goods.

This has become evident again with the current debate over healthy school food, played out in what must have been a rather sad and embarrassing session at the Local Authority Caterers Association conference earlier this month (Caterer, 19 July, page 9](

Quick public-funding fixes never work because the money gets spent without a lot of thought about how the initiative is really going to be sustainable in the longer term. This is what happened with the "Jamie Oliver" money last year.

For the ongoing healthy school meals programme to be a success there's really only one answer: little bums on school canteen seats. But as we now all know, the little nippers have stayed away in their droves.

I've worked in Somerset which, like Dorset, has many schools without kitchen facilities. At a school just outside Glastonbury we had an incredibly successful programme offering healthy school dinners prepared and served up in the village hall just down the road. We had nearly 100% uptake. Why? Because we adopted the "whole school approach".

You can't just dump healthy school dinners on kids and parents, you have to prepare everyone with cookery classes for the kids - we also sent the recipes home for families try out first - taste tests of what you're going to serve, growing herbs and veg in the school gardens, even links with farms and farming communities. Every single little kid at Meare School could tell you about food miles.

You also need a local champion to steer the effort: if the head teacher isn't behind it all the way you're dead in the water.

Healthy school dinners have to be integrated with lots of other aspects of healthy and local food and then, wonder of wonders, the kids love it - even, would you believe, Jamie's vegetable goulash.

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